Talk with Author Burton Hersh
Thu Jul 5, 2007 15:59

Talk with Author Burton Hersh
Aired December 3, 2001 - 07:40 ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're back at just about 20 minutes before the hour. This morning the body of CIA officer Mike Spann, the first known American combat casualty in Afghanistan is back on American soil. Family, friends, and a Marine Honor Guard greeted the fallen hometown hero yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base. When the normally CIA released information about Spann to the public, it surprise many including author Burton Hersh.

He has written a book about the history of the CIA. It is called "The Old Boys", American elite and the origins of the CIA. Burton Hersh joins me now from Tampa, Florida. Good to have you with us sir. Welcome.

BURTON HERSH, AUTHOR "THE OLD BOYS": Oh, thank you. It's great to be here.

ZAHN: So what surprised you about the CIA supplying as much information as it did about Michael Spann?

HERSH: Well it's been policy in the agency all the way back not to release the names of officers or people associated with them. Anything relating to methods or sources has been off the books. So that when they released the name of Michael Spann, you had to wonder why they did it. The suspicion, of course, is that the bad press they've been getting ever since the September 11th disaster pushed them into it - that they felt they had to do something.

But other CIA people - other officers and so forth whom I know and who have been on television have been horrified by this, because there's always the risk of recriminations against the family of people like Mike Spann, and that could have a terrible blow back. So that's one problem. There are other things. People like Spann really are kind of seconded (ph) into the CIA from the military. They're not really line officers. They don't operate out of the embassies.

And it may be that people within the agency felt that to a certain extent they were expendable. If that's the case, I think some serious searching and concern had better be registered.

ZAHN: So if I understand, once again, what you're saying here sir, the charge is that Michael Spann's history was almost being used to wage some kind of PR war?

HERSH: Well that's the suspicion. I mean the people that I've known in the agency all the way up and down have been good honorable patriotic people. But whether it became policy to try to rescue the reputation of the CIA and they were told to do this, is a good question that I think journalists ought to try to answer. I think it's a - it's a very serious problem.

There's a tendency to treat the pare (ph) military people -- the people that come in from military branches like the Marines, in a -- in a different way within the agency. They're sometimes called method (ph) draggers and so forth. So there's - that can be a problem. That can be a difficulty.

ZAHN: So how - based on what you're saying here this morning - how committed in general do you think the CIA is to protecting its operatives?

HERSH: Well in general, they have been very committed and they've gone to tremendous links to try to get people back who have been grabbed. For example, when William Buckley (ph) was grabbed in Beirut, they did everything conceivable to bring him out. And they were - they were led around the garden path by the Islamic Jihad. In the end he was - he was never recovered.

In a similar case, the KGB, when one of their people was grabbed by the Jihad, found a relative of one of the kidnappers, cut him up, spread his face across the top of the box, and sent the box COD to the Jihad headquarters in Beirut saying that if their man wasn't back within 24 hours, they could expect the entire family, one by one, packaged up and sent through. The KGB man was out within a matter of six hours. Now it may be that in dealing with some of these people, some of these techniques may be necessary if we're to protect our own people.

ZAHN: In your book, you take a long view at the agency. You look at its beginnings, and then you take a look at what you think are some of the biggest problems it now faces. What kind of an overhaul are you suggesting of the CIA?

HERSH: Well the - one of the great themes in "The Old Boy" is that it came right out of the Wall Street, New York legal and banking establishment. A lot of the senior people starting with Wild Bill Donavon (ph) were well-established establishment people. And they were looking after the interests of their corporate sponsors. And to some extent that theme has pervaded the CIA from that time to the present time.

There's been a tendency for the agency to take an exaggerated concern with American financial interest, with American commercial concerns. Now that's always been part of what every government does. Certainly the British did the same thing. But we've got to - we've got to factor in some of the long-term global political considerations or we're going to be skewing our policy not only on the national level, but certainly on the intelligence level.

ZAHN: We are going to leave our discussion there for this morning. Burton Hersh, the author of "The Old Boys". The title goes on, but I shortened it for time purposes here, appreciate your insights this morning. Thank you very much for your time.

HERSH: It is great to be here. Thanks.

ZAHN: My pleasure.


Burton Hersh:

Burton Hersh is an author and writer of numerous published books and periodicals. Recent works include: The Nature of the Beast (Winner, Readers Notes Best Fiction in 2003); The Shadow President: Ted Kennedy in Opposition;and The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA; among others. Hersh's periodical work is extensive, including contributions to Holiday, Show, Horizon, Venture, Ski, Town and Country, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. As an undergraduate at Harvard, Burton Hersh was a member of Phi Beta Kappa; awarded the History and Literature Prize and the First Bowdein Prize; and recognized as a Fulbright Scholar in Germany. Burton Hersh's professional awards and involvement include the Writer's Voice Grant - Lila Wallace/Lanham Foundation (2000), Faculty of the Sea - M.S. Westerdam (1998), Who's Who in the World (1998) America, etc., Writer's at Work - Park City, Utah (1995), and Consultant at the Sundance Playwriters' Workshop (1995), to name a few. Along with three national book tours, Hersh has made appearances as a Commentator on Lehrer Report, History Channel, A&E, and hundreds of other radio and television appearances. He has acted as a Fellow to the Aspen Institute Council on Foreign Relations; and as a member of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College, the Board of Directors of The Association of Former Intelligence Officers, International Society of Comparative Literature and Theater, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and PEN Writer's Guild.

the image in its original context on the page:

Main Page - Sunday, 07/08/07

Message Board by American Patriot Friends Network [APFN]


messageboard.gif (4314 bytes)